latino/a is a designation used primarily in the United States to refer to people who are from or whose descendants are from Latin America, South America and other Spanish cultures. The term does not necessarily refer to a specific race, as these geographic regions are historically multiracial and multicultural; however, many people nevertheless use “Latino/a” as convenient shorthand to identify race.

There is not one single media representation of Latino/as. Depending on the genre (movie, television, news, documentary), the historical period, the story being told, the type of production (mainstream or independent), and the target audience (English or Spanish-speaking), there may be a multitude or range of representations. 

At the same time, even with all these representations, there are some common stereotypes and conventions we can see if we pay close attention to the patterns in what we’re viewing. Historically, Latinos have been portrayed in American media as…

…gardeners, maids, bandits, gangsters, illegal aliens…

…macho, sexualized, dangerous, exotic, hot tempered…

These stereotypes and conventions may not reflect our reality or any reality we personally know or recognize. In fact, they simply may be common shorthand used by those working behind-the-scenes doing the writing, directing, producing, casting, set design, costuming, hair and makeup.

If we can start to see patterns, even in the smallest details of someone’s dress, their body language, their speech, where they live, what kind of job they have, how they interact with others of the same or different ethnicity, we can begin to understand how representations create meaning, perpetuate ideologies, and potentially reinforce stereotypes.

dig in...do now 

Begin by making a list of the types of representations of Latino/as you can think of in American media. Also, take a look at the media on this website tagged “Latino/as.” Then, consider:

  • What types of representations are these?
  • Are they stereotypical or complex?
  • If they are stereotypical, what kinds of stereotypes do you notice?
  • Are the stereotypes based on how the individuals look? What they say? How they speak? What they do?
  • Are they violent or peaceful? Are they sexualized? Are they lazy or hardworking?
  • Are they protagonists or antagonists?
  • Are the representations of Latino/as different in English-language compared to Spanish-language media?  If so, how? Why?